‘They are not afraid of death.’ Chilling words from a psychiatrist in Kashmir about the younger generation that is taking to the streets these days. And why would they be ‘afraid’, having grown up in an atmosphere of violence and bloodshed where night curfews and midnight searches by security personnel are part of ‘humdrum life’? It should be of grave concern to the Government of India that more than 90 per cent of those protesting on the streets of Kashmir today are below 25.
How is it that these young people, who should have so much at stake in the future, are so alienated? It cannot be that they are unaware of how rapidly the Indian economy is growing, throwing up employment opportunities hitherto unheard of. It can also not be that they are unaware of how precipitately Pakistan, the beacon of hope for the separatist movement, is heading down a slippery slope.
These young people do not have the baggage of Partition, of historic wrongs. They have been the beneficiaries of the Centre’s largesse ever since they were born. Yet, all this is a testimony to how little the government — and, indeed, the people of India — understand the psyche of these young people, simply believing that money and other sops are all that’s required to buy goodwill. The government’s approach to Kashmir has been the classic carrot and stick one. On the one hand, brutal State suppression and on the other, unending amounts of money.
It is time that the Centre moved away from its policy of talking only to those with a political stake in the state. It should, with the help of civil society organisations, engage the young who are the future of Kashmir. If any positive solution is to come about, it is the youth that will bring it about, not cynical politicians who are not averse to keeping the pot boiling.
Instead of talking to middle-men and self-styled ‘representatives of the people’, the government should cut to the chase and listen to what it is that spurs these young people to risk their lives for an illusory azaadi. That won’t affect the sanctity of the nation.